Cannock Chase trails are free to ride and open all year round with plenty of parking available at the Birches Valley Visitors Centre (charges apply). In this article I will be writing about the 2 cross-country trails called ‘Follow the Dog’ and the ‘Monkey Trail’. Both these trails are graded red so are only suitable for experienced mountain bikers with good off-road bike handling skills and fitness.
Follow the Dog
Distance: 6.7 miles Difficulty: Medium
‘Follow the Dog’ consists of fast flowing singletrack, lot’s of tight twisty bends and some technical sections too. Some of the technical trail features include rock gardens, boardwalks and drop-offs. If you’re feeling up to the challenge there are also several optional black graded sections on the trail for more advanced riders.
The start of the trails are very clearly marked with large banners and sign-posts. Also, different sections of the trail have been given names, which adds more interest and fun to the whole experience. Incidentally the start of the ‘Follow the Dog’ trail is called ‘Twist & Shout’. As the name suggests it includes some nice flowing, twisty singletrack. After a short distance you will come to the first optional black section of the trail. This comprises of an elevated boardwalk section with a drop-off at the end. It may look a bit daunting at first but can be cleared relatively easily with good balance and brake control.
On entering the forest some of the gaps between the trees can be very tight, so keep this in mind if you have 760mm+ handlebars. This first part of the ‘dog’ is pretty fun and flowy and is a good indication of what the rest of the trail is like.
At the end of the ‘Twist & Shout’ section you cross over the fire road and start ‘Stegosaurus’. This is quite a challenging technical section beginning with large rocky steps and then a gnarly rock garden. The rocky section after the bridge is particularly tricky, so it’s best to go at a steady speed, look ahead and plan your line wisely. The rest of this section is much smoother and flowier.
The Monkey Trail
Distance: 7 – 14 miles (including Follow the Dog) Difficulty: Medium
Of all the Cannock Chase Trails, the ‘Monkey Trail’ is probably considered to be the best. This trail is actually an extension of ‘Follow the Dog’ but includes some much tougher climbs and more technical sections. After about 2.5 miles the trail splits off from ‘Follow the Dog’ and is clearly signposted. This first section called ‘Devil’s Staircase’ starts off quite mellow but then becomes more technical with small drop-offs and a set of stairs on a switchback.
You then come to a bridge and road crossing, once on the other side follow the red marked signs. The next appropriately named section ‘Lung Buster’ is a series of steep switchbacks that snake up the side of the hill. It’s probably best to drop into your lowest gear at the bottom of the climb so you can keep up a smooth cadence. There is also a small rooty step-up near the top of the climb which really tests your balance and power.
After that tough challenge you are rewarded with another nice flowy singletrack section called ‘Tight Squeeze’. As the name suggests there are some quite tight gaps between the trees so watch out for those handlebars!. You then arrive at ‘Rainbow Valley’, which starts with a boardwalk section and then turns into a climb with a series of steep switchbacks. The next section called ‘Over the Rainbow’ is a fun and quite long downhill with some small berms and shallow step-downs.
The descent continues with a section called ‘Pot of Gold’ which also includes berms and step-downs. Eventually you merge onto a fire road and follow the red sign pointing to the left. This is a long, but steady climb that lasts for about 500m. You then leave the fire road and move onto ‘Rollercoaster’, this starts as a steady climb but also includes some fast descents and a right-hand berm. After that you reach the start of ‘Deer Skull’. This is a really fun section, which begins in the open as a fast, flowy descent with some nice corners, then heads into the trees for some tight technical turns.
You continue for a short distance on a fire road before joining the next section, ‘The Original Monkey’. This is quite a tough section which starts as a climb and then descends through a series of gnarly rock-garden style drop-offs called Tom, Dick and Harry. There is also an optional long black graded section with an even gnarlier rock-garden. ‘The Gully’ section follows this with a fun flowy trail leading to ‘The Woodbank’ which includes a short elevated boardwalk feature. This section ends with a steady climb before joining a fire road.
Next comes ‘Monkeys Uncle’, this is a really fun descent that winds through the trees and features some small rock slabs, boardwalks and switchbacks. This is followed by ‘Absinthe’ which starts as a descent and then climbs steadily for about 100 metres. You then reach the longest climb of the trail called ‘What Goes Up’. This is a tough challenge about 400 metres long with a series of switchbacks weaving up the hillside. Probably best to drop into your lowest gear at the bottom and be mentally prepared for a long slog.
The next 2 sections known as ‘Snap It’ and ‘Upper Cliff’ are really fun descents which weave through a densely wooded area with an optional black graded rock garden. Then there is a short connecting fire road section which brings you to ‘Insidious Incline’. This begins as a gentle climb but steepens in places and includes some switchbacks. At this point my fatigue was making this climb harder than it looked.
As you reach the top of the climb the trail opens out with quite a good viewpoint at the start of ‘Lower Cliff’. This is probably the most fun, fastest descent of the trail, it’s about 1000 metres long and features some tight switchbacks and high berms. You’ll certainly need good brakes on this descent as the speed picks up quickly and the tight bends come up fast!. Unfortunately the photos don’t really do it justice.
The bottom of the descent marks the end of the ‘Monkey Trail’. You now have to cross back over the road and complete the 2nd half of ‘Follow the Dog’ to get back to the visitor centre. Please bear in mind that the trails are regularly maintained by Chase Trails and sometimes parts of a trail may be closed for maintenance. Also, occasionally deforestation work may effect some of the trails but there will always be a diversion in place. Therefore, it’s worth checking the Chase Trails website for updates on any diversions in place before making a visit.
- A good choice of Mountain Bike trails for beginner to experienced riders
- Lots of fast, flowing singletrack and descents
- All the trails are well sign-posted
- Allows you to practice various bike handling skills within a relatively small area
- Has lots of parking and other facilities including cafe, bike shop and toilets
- Not the most exciting scenery/views
- Can be very busy at weekends and summer months
Other Mountain Bike routes in the Midlands
Downs Banks, Staffordshire
Silverdale Country Park, Staffordshire
Hanchurch Woods, Staffordshire
Biddulph Valley Way, Cheshire/Staffordshire